Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thanks to the Viking, Reaching Your Athletes Just Got Easier

The kids are always on their phones nowadays right?  I mean, back in the day we used to stand up, stretch and at least shake our arms around ten minutes before the race.  Now kids are looking at little tiny screens before and after a swim.  I have one girl on my team who can do the entire Ab Ripper X video without ever looking up from her phone, texting the entire time. Some kids even have the fancy water-proof cases on their phones and set them at the end of the lane right next to their cappuccino during practice. I don't even stop them from texting through kick sets any more. How are we supposed to get through to them in this day and age?

By playing their game better than them... that's how.

I bestow upon you a great gift today.  One that will modernize your coaching arsenal and make you more powerful than a jedi who took time to meditate right before he got sliced in half in a kick-ass lightsaber duel.  Seriously, it is time to make a "text pics" folder on your iPhone right now.  I have been collecting funny gifs and pictures since spring sectionals and I occasionally send them to my athletes to get my message across.  It has brought much joy to my team communication.  Here is a small sample:

"Hey coach, what's practice like today?"
"Yeah, your start was that bad."

I use this one a lot.  It has really improved my marriage as well.

When someone throws up during sprints at morning practice.
When they go out too fast and manage to hang on.
When they go out too fast and don't manage to hang on.

Here's to a good swim

"Hey coach, can I do one-arm on the fly?"
"Hey coach, is it okay if I am a little late to practice today?"

For when they see how hard this practice is really gonna be... "I'm sorry.  I love you."
This works for just about every excuse in the book.

some of my favorite ways to respond to whining.
..sometimes I even pretend I am revving up a tiny motorcycle in my mouth like this guy
for when I really need to psyche up the relay.

I am betting Bob Bowman was wishing he had this one a couple of years ago.
every male college sprinter needs to be sent this one at least once.
Come on coaches, you got any good ones you wanna share? Let's see them in the comments.

*here's an iphone secret for you.  Since gif's play when they are received over mms, but don't play while you are creating the message: if you can't remember what the gif does in action, tap the envelope as though you are sending it as an email so you can see it play, then go back and send it as a text.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Did Ryan Lochte Do?: The Viking's Review

"Colonel Fury... tell the execs we can scratch Project Tool Academy.  We found our man."

Now that "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" has premiered, everyone in the world of swimming is feeling the need to declare whether they love it or hate it.  I struggled a bit with what side of the fence I sit on.  At the USA-Swimming website, Gus evidently felt the need to put a disclaimer out there: "The first thing to keep in mind when watching “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?,” is that it is a reality show, and like all reality shows, it has nothing to do with actual reality." 

I am not sure I agree in this case.  Hard core athletes party, and I have heard some pretty good Ryan Lochte stories.  I fear this may be spot on.  It's just not the side of an Olympian we usually see put out there.  At least he comes off as a sweet, goofy guy who loves his family, and not mean-spirited or rudely obnoxious like a lot of pro athletes.

The Bad:  I couldn't help but cringe at the thought of how many swim families got together in front of the TV expecting a show about swimming, training and Olympic excellence all wrapped up in the tortilla of fun that is Ryan Lochte's personality... only to find that really it's the swim version of Jersey Shore minus 99% of the actual swimming. Young swimmers love Reezy but we might have to cover their eyes a bit too much here.

"'s as though millions of swim parents were suddenly asked by their children to define the word douche-bag."
The Good:  Lochte is a like-able guy.  If you can get past the "don't let your twelve year old watch" stuff, you can't help but think he is funny--  although unfortunately he tends to be funny in the way that "blonde" jokes are funny.  I can see why he was chosen for a reality show.  A lot of the appeal is his clueless-ness and that is a winning formula in the world of reality television.  I mean, the folks at Fox News in Philly seem to love the guy:

Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29

Of course, as a swimmer I have to wonder where all the other swim people are.  I would love to see the dynamics between Ryan and Coach Troy, or even Ryan and his dad.  I want to see some of the swimmers I have met who train with and hang with Ryan because they have to be a part of his life in some way, don't they? Aren't his training partners ever around to knock him upside the head before he does something dumb, or is the Lochtourage there to keep other swimmers from dragging him down?  Hey, maybe that is coming up in the next few episodes.  Who knows?

This was the part where my wife said "I wanna give this guy an IQ test so bad."

I am trying not to take this too seriously or think too much about how it effects our sport.  Lochte is not a swimmer now so much as he is a celebrity.  Good?  Bad?  Whatever... As a former swimmer and now a coach/teacher, I can't help but see this as a science experiment.  This is our first glimpse into the depths of the post-grad phenomena.  Think about it.  Ryan is in a new kind of petri dish.  When I think about if 21 year old me were all of a sudden able to make enough money as a swimmer to just keep swimming?...  I would have probably still been living the college life at age 28.  Ryan is living the dream on a whole new level and thriving.  Imagine it:  college swimming without homework; without needing a job, without NCAA rules holding you back from the hops inspired awesome-ness you might have been. Who knows where I would have ended up if all of a sudden there was no point in me maturing beyond that point?  For me, it might have been a little more like Shakes the Clown than a coming of age frat party movie, but hey, every body is different, right?

I might have held it together a little better than this, but anyone who knew 21 year old me gets what I'm sayin.
Either way, I'll take it.  I am not gonna bring my club kids together for a screening or anything, but all in all it was fun.  I hope they can keep it interesting and I hope that we get to see a little more of the swimming side, but I am not gonna complain too much if we don't.  It's a reality show and expectations just have to be low.  Ryan has crossed the line from swimmer to loveable douche-bag celebrity, but he is still our loveable douche-bag celebrity.

And even if they were to cancel it after one show, at least we got a couple of cool gifs out of it, right?



Monday, March 25, 2013

Hey Cincinnati... No Hard Feelings. I'm Still Rooting For You.

I got a SwimSwam email alert the other day that should make any fan of college swimming happy:  The Cincinnati Bearcats will be "aggressively" working toward re-instating full scholarships to their swimming program!  The cherry on top?-- Their new football coach is a big supporter and is pitching in to help!

I was pumped when I read this, even though I like to pretend I hate Cinci. Why would I do that?  Read on...

It's not you, Bearcats... It's your parents.
My freshman year at the National Independent Championships (NIC) in February of 1993 I had made the top 8 in the 400 IM and the 100 breast which were both in the same session. (NIC? Never heard of it? It's the conference for all the teams who don't have a conference.) I had barely squeaked into 8th in the 400 IM and had edged out a Bearcat to do it.  The team race was tight enough at that point that it mattered.  

I have to hand to the Cinci crowd.  We were in Charlotte, NC and there weren't very many (Southwest) Missouri State Bear parents there to watch.  In contrast, the Cincinnati Bearcats had a sea of red in those bleachers.  Seriously, they weren't just awesomely ridiculous about cheering for their team... they even had a cheer to cheer on themselves.  "Cinci! Cinci! Cincinnati parents! Cinci! Cinci! Cincinnati parents!"  

I am not kidding.  At first we thought they were saying "BEARCATS,"  but no, it was "PARENTS."

Obnoxious, right?!  I would have been pretty embarrassed if that was my mom up there in those bleachers acting like that.

I had a shot at a medal in the 100 breast, so Coach Steck told me to blow off the IM and relax it, and I did.  I swam a 4:20 when it took a 4:09 to get in.  Haha.  I didn't really think anything of it until I was walking from the blocks to the cool down pool with my towel and sweats in hand.  Those obnoxious parents-- they actually did a cheer just for me!  It was a pretty simple one:  "BOO!  BOO! LAME!"

And of course me, with my silly little mohawk had to stop and do one of these:

"You boo'in at me?  Of course you are.  I'm the only one here."
It was odd, how charged I got from that.  For the first time, I felt like a real athlete in a real sport.  Wow.  This must be what pro athletes feel like.  They hate me.  They actually care!  I felt like a closing pitcher for the Cardinals cleaning up the last inning at Wrigley Field for the win.  Haters gonna hate.  Damn.  I shoulda moon-walked.

Maybe it was just because the bleachers at meets in Alaska never had enough people to even get loud.  Maybe it was because I felt like parents really never actually watched anyone but their own kid.  I am not sure why that felt so damn good.  This made up for everything I missed by choosing swimming instead of trying out for middle school basketball.  This was the big-time.

So, yeah... I am glad to see Cincinnati is gonna give their program the AED treatment.  There is a lot of history there.  Hell, Josh Schneider's success is enough to get swim fans and alumni excited about it.  But really, I just want to see those ridiculous parents back in the stands.  Swimming needs a little more of that.

No hard feelings... I appreciate the history of your program and your mom's enthusiasm for it.  I hope you guys come back with guns blazing.  Go Bearcats.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

As Wrestling Leaves the Olympics, Swimming Sighs Relief

Today, many people in the domestic swimming world are discussing the IOC's decision to cut wrestling from the Olympic program. As Braden Keith writes for Swimswam, this is a good thing for swimming. Is it sad that "not getting cut" passes for good news in swimming? Yes! Is it absolutely heartbreaking to see a sport whose decline on the NCAA level has made the recent cuts in men's swimming seem like a minor setback take another hit like this? Absolutely. Is the way the decision came to pass extremely unsettling for the sports that were saved? I think you know the answer.

Swimming survived, because as Keith puts it, it is a "cash cow". Every four years the otherwise low profile international sport moves to the forefront for eight days and lines the pocket of IOC plutocrats. It's remarkably uncontroversial within swimming circles that this happens. Stakeholders are generally thankful for the eight day popularity boost and meager windfall they can receive. It's better than nothing, which most elite athletes get between Olympiads.

People outside the sport see it for what it is: a wholesale fleecing of our most elite athletes. Yes, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps made some big bucks off their athletic prowess. Yet, their take was probably only a meager share of the money created by Swimming at the Olympics. It was a point that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made on his blog last spring. His purpose was defending Dwyane Wade, who stated flatly what is absolutely true, that he and his teammates should be compensated for their participation in the Olympics.

Public reaction to Wade's comments was generally negative. How could he be so selfish? Wasn't the honor of representing his country enough? These are straw men arguments. The point is that there is a lot of money in the Olympics, and very little of it goes to the performers. The London Olympics, for instance, quoted 2.4 Billion dollars in revenue. Consider that one of the major US sports leagues, the NBA, recently resolved a labor dispute by getting players to reduce their guaranteed share of revenue (in this case technically Basketball Related Income) from 57% to 51%. Of that 2.4 billion, 659 million was in ticket revenues alone. Can you imagine a world in which the athletes were actually payed out half of that from the Olympic coffers.

Yet they are not, primarily because the IOC directly paying athletes is the final stand of "amateurism" in Olympic sport. Amateurism, in this case as well as the NCAA, is not truly about preserving the purity of competition. It's mainly about guaranteeing that a select few suits at the top get very wealthy on the backs of young athletes.

So where does this leave wrestling? In the fight to save collegiate swimming programs, aquatic supporters have often cited how athletic departments are cutting a popular Olympic sport. Wrestling proponents can no longer make that claim, and swimming has been put on further notice that it is far from safe.

Monday, February 4, 2013

DeSantis Relocating to Accept Head Blogger Position at Danish Swimming Website

The Viking is just jealous because in Denmark Chris will get to wear cool Nordic armor like this to work every day.

February 4, 2013

Atlanta, GA-- After three seasons as Editor in Chief at the successful website The Swim Brief, Chris DeSantis has accepted a job overseas as the lead blogger for the Danish Swimming website Svimyingk.

DeSantis, who first rose to fame with the legendary Floswimming, has been at the helm of The Swim Brief since March of 2011.  The new position offers a 10,000 percent raise from his former pay at the ad-free website where his salary consisted of once getting offered a beer by some guy who reads the blog.  His most notable successes include his never ending antagonism of the Executive Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, having coffee with USA Swimming CEO Chuck Wielgus without punching him in the face, educating the masses about the Faroe Islands, having his picture taken with journalist Craig Lord, and making Braden Keith from feel bad for writing about NAG Record Holder Michael Andrew all the damn time.

Fans of The Swim Brief know Chris, affectionately nicknamed "little dickbag" by fellow blogger Lisa Stephens, as the voice of reason amongst the Swim Brief Crew. He is credited with keeping the group together through troubled times, like when the Viking decided to “go all Yoko Ono and say a bunch of stupid shit that made everybody mad at each other.”

This move brings DeSantis to his ancestral home base of Denmark, where he has already developed connections with elite members of their coaching community.  Having written so many nice things about them, he has been guaranteed priority access to gather the best media for fans of Danish swimming worldwide.  Access has has been an issue for DeSantis throughout his career in the American media since he began helping Garrett McCaffrey in 2008 to get video coverage of swim meets for and ran afoul of USA Swimming’s strict guidelines.

DeSantis says he plans to coach a little on the side and to continue posting articles at The Swim Brief about as often as Gus does, but will only post in Danish just to annoy people.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Must I Be An Extrovert To Be A Great Coach?

I once interviewed for a job where they voiced concern that I seemed to be too "low key" and might not be the enthusiastic motivator they felt their team needed.  It reminded me of a discussion in class while pursuing my PE degree that centered around the question "what makes a great coach?"  We made a list of traits that came to mind and then immediately got into stories about people who had no background or education in their sport who went on to great careers, and conversely, stories about people who were great athletes and had tremendous knowledge for whom coaching was not a great fit.  We can all point at these examples in our lives, I'm sure.

The conclusion?: It came down to personality more than any other factor.  My class, mostly full of former ball players, carried the same mindset as the administrators in that interview. They were looking for, or wanted to be, the gregarious, extroverted, take charge kind of guy that they envision makes a great coach.

This impressionable, aspiring coach walked out of that class with horns hanging low, discouraged with the thought of wasting time on a worthless degree, thinking that any charismatic doofus off the street could show up at the pool, read a couple of books, and coach circles around me.  "Am I really cut out for this?" was a question that took a long time for me to answer.  You see, on the scale of temperament from outgoing to inward, I score as a world class introvert.  In college, a four hour shift at Subway was more exhausting to me than a fifteen hour shift getting slammed in twelve foot seas.  Class discussions, presentations and even, at times, small talk were torture.  If I could have found a career working in a cave with no human interaction at all I would have jumped all over it.  It was difficult for me as an assistant coach to take charge of my own group for the first time.  Even now, after fourteen years as a head coach, I often feel as though I am constantly shielding my head from the flying debris and drama of the extrovert ruled world that spins out of control all around me.

Where I once tried to fake it to fit the mold, I have now come to terms with my natural tendencies.  Unfortunately, some mistake a quiet demeanor for lack of confidence, as though it is a type of weakness that needs to be cured. Team parents who aren't yet used to my style often act like I am doing their swimmers a disservice by not acting like a spunky cheerleader or a domineering yeller in practice and at meets, but I feel that would not be genuine and would actually stand in the way of creating the type of partnership I want to build with them as they mature. Also, often I see coaches who act like they have to be the loudest guy in the meeting, but as Chris so eloquently put it just a few weeks ago, being soft-spoken doesn't necessarily make one a pushover.

I am currently reading the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain.  In it she cites studies that show introverts, contrary to popular assumption, are often better leaders than their outgoing peers.  Introspection, attention to detail, a focus on the long-term ramifications of decisions, willingness to listen, and respect for the ideas of others can foster a type of leadership that makes groups better as a whole.  An introvert has less tendency to micro-manage, and more tendency to let employees take their projects and run with them. This can lead to a higher level of respect and pride in the work they do and can improve workplace morale as each contributor feels more valuable.  A quiet leader is often more adept at delegating jobs and helping everyone to get along better in the workplace.  Doesn't it make sense that this would work the same way with a group of athletes, other coaches, or the administration for your school or club?

As a matter of fact, the author even goes so far as to say that the Harvard Business School model of seeking and priming only the most extroverted students to become the world's leaders of finance may actually be damaging to the world economy.  Their assumption that to lead you must make quick decisions in the face of incomplete data and be sure to forcefully place your ideas at the front of the discussion often works against the greater good.  It is rare that the loudest guy in the room is the one with the best ideas, and often risks are taken with no one feeling they are in a position to question the alpha's in charge.  The book goes into great details about research on productivity, negotiation skills, management and American classroom and workplace structure that is often so deliberately organized to suit those who are outgoing that they can cripple productivity and learning for everyone.  It seems in America that, rather than helping people to maximize their innate skills, we try to force everyone to fit the imagined ideal even when we should know that it doesn't work.

Am I saying that my style is the best and everyone needs to stop pretending to be Mr. Exciting?  Not even close. There are still things I see in those high-energy coaches that I try to emulate. Am I saying that all coaches who always have their volume turned up to eleven are over-bearing jerks?  Haha.  Absolutely not.  I have on occasion been the loudest guy in the room, and sometimes I do let out a piercing yell when needed. What I am saying is that the things that make a great coach are not just sometimes hard to see, but they can also often be counter-intuitive to what you would normally look for. Every coach should stop to think about their their strengths and weaknesses and should take lessons from both sides of the spectrum.  Remember that your athletes will fall on different places on that spectrum as well, and getting to know them and what makes them tick as people is often the key to reaching them in a meaningful way.

I am much more comfortable with who I am as a coach than I was a decade ago, and I like to think that this post might help some quiet, young coaches out there to start seeing something they might perceive as a weakness can actually be a strength.  Because of my nature, when I do raise my voice it carries a little more weight, and I hope that the words of encouragement I speak will carry more influence as well.